Drones

Intercepting radio signals can reveal if a drone is spying on you

Intercepting radio signals can...
Researchers have developed a drone counter-surveillance technique that doesn't require any advanced hacking skills and could be used on any laptop running Linux OS
Researchers have developed a drone counter-surveillance technique that doesn't require any advanced hacking skills and could be used on any laptop running Linux OS
View 1 Image
Researchers have developed a drone counter-surveillance technique that doesn't require any advanced hacking skills and could be used on any laptop running Linux OS
1/1
Researchers have developed a drone counter-surveillance technique that doesn't require any advanced hacking skills and could be used on any laptop running Linux OS

As consumer drones have become more commonplace, so too have concerns that owners might be tempted to use them for snooping. Researchers have now developed a way to uncover such activity, coming up with a way to intercept a drone's radio signals and tell whether it's been filming things that it shouldn't.

The technique was developed at Israel's Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and it centers on the first-person view (FPV) radio signals being transmitted from an airborne drone back to its controller. Knowing that these signals, which the drone uses to relay its video stream, will change in response to visual stimuli, the team set up traps to catch out snooping drones.

In one experiment, the team acted out a scenario where a DJI Mavic drone was used to film a neighbor's house. A type of smart film was placed on the surface of the windows, which allowed the windows to be switched between opaque and transparent. This flickering caused changes in the bitrate of the drone's radio signals, which could then be picked up by the team's proof-of-concept system.

"The beauty of this research is that someone using only a laptop and an object that flickers can detect if someone is using a drone to spy on them," says Ben Nassi, a Ph.D. student of Prof. Yuval Elovici's in BGU's Department of Software and Information Systems Engineering. "While it has been possible to detect a drone, now someone can also tell if it is recording a video of your location or something else."

In another demonstration, the team used an LED strip on a person wearing a white shirt to create a similar effect, picking up uncharacteristic spikes in the intercepted radio signals to prove that the drone was filming that particular subject. The team says the technique doesn't require any advanced hacking skills and could be used on any laptop running Linux OS.

"This research shatters the commonly held belief that using encryption to secure the FPV channel prevents someone from knowing they are being tracked," Nassi says. "The secret behind our method is to force controlled physical changes to the captured target that influence the bitrate (data) transmitted on the FPV channel. Our findings may help thwart privacy invasion attacks that are becoming more common with increasing drone use. This could have significant impact for the military and for consumers because a victim can now legally prove that a neighbor was invading their privacy."

A paper detailing the technique is available online, while the video below shows it in action.

Source: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Game Of Drones - Detecting Streamed POI from Encrypted FPV Channel

4 comments
Sisko
Score one for the average person who does not want others snooping on them. Another breakthrough innovation from Israel.
knight205@comcast.net
How do you know that the camera is recording you if you can't determine the direction of the camera or it's elevation - the changes in the brightness of the sun due to clouds may be causing the transmissions. I think it would be a great start but it is not the camera image, making hard to say just what you are determining is the subject?
ljaques
I thought maybe they were catching the entire video from the drone, but this should be just as legal in court for harassment cases. That the flashing of the privacy window was captured in the bitrate to the drone user's phone was a dead giveaway that it was pointed in that direction. Had it been focused on a farther point, say, the next house, the camera wouldn't have caught it. Book 'em, Dano.
warren52nz
A great idea but I wonder if evidence that flimsy would stand up in court. I mean anything changing in the drone's field of vision would trigger a higher bitrate. There's already a better system in place. Wherever I fly my Mavic Pro, all of the flight details are recorded and any photos or videos I take are recorded in the cloud so authorities could just go there for proof.